Men Who Slept
While Zechariah slept he was given visions which conveyed to him truths relevant to the times in which he lived; and when he was awakened out of his sleep, he was given further unfoldings of the divine mind. He was contemporary with Haggai; and both prophesied at the time of the rebuilding of the Temple by the exiles who had returned from their captivity in Babylon. Jerusalem was the centre of his activities, and in that city he was associated with Joshua the High Priest as the religious leader and with Zerubbabel as the political leader.
The prophecy consists of two parts, the second part consisting of chapters nine to fourteen predicting events concerning the establishing of the Messianic Kingdom and Israel’s part therein. The first part contains eight visions communicated to Zechariah in the second year of King Darius, that is, in the year 520 B.C. Chapter four opens with these words: “And the angel who talked with me came again, and waked me as a man that is wakened out of his sleep.” The eight visions are thus divided into two: (a) those given while the prophet was in a reverie or asleep, and (b) those given after he had been wakened. This present paper is concerned chiefly with three visions when he was awake. It may be wise, however, to refer also to the fourth vision.
The prophet saw the ceremony of the cleansing and establishment of Joshua, the son of Josedech, as High Priest. His filthy garments and other types of defilement were removed and he was clothed in vestments of righteousness, a ceremony which symbolically was meant to convey the message that before the nation could be assured of acceptance into divine favour it must be characterized by holiness through cleansing from the defiling practices brought back from Babylon. That is a message which is always up-to-date, even today. Chapters four and five contain three visions. Zechariah had revealed to him conditions which were necessary for national prosperity and individual spiritual health, conditions which always have a relevance. The three visions were: (1) of a lampstand and two olive trees; (2) of a flying scroll; (3) of an ephah with a heavy lid.
The Lampstand had a central stem and seven lamps. Those lamps were supplied with oil from a large bowl which was constantly replenished from two olive trees, so that there was an abundant supply to the lamp stand. There was no human intermediary between the trees and the bowl. That arrangement had a significant message to Zerubbabel who was superintending the building of the Temple. The message was most arresting and highly pertinent: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” Zerubbabel was to learn that however assiduous he might be in his personal efforts (power), and however determined his builder-assistants might be in their concerted endeavour (might), they could not accomplish successfully the task to which they had dedicated themselves. The message which may have been a hard one for Zerubbabel to learn was this: The work will be brought to a satisfactory issue only as the Holy Spirit motivates those engaged in the task. The oil from the two trees was the symbol of that fact. Trees do not result from human labour but divine provision.
The lampstand had its own symbolic significance. Both in the Tabernacle erected by Moses, and in the Temple built by Solomon, the lamp-stand was a reminder to Israel that the nation had been placed by God in the world to be a witness to His truth, righteousness and holiness. Zerubbabel was being informed that the lamp-stand which was to be placed in the rebuilt Temple was representative of the nation as the bearer of light amidst heathen darkness. That witness would be possible only as the Holy Spirit was permitted to govern their lives.
That lesson has been carried over to the New Testament. The Perfect Lampstand is the Lord Jesus Christ who is the solitary Light of the world, whose entire life on earth was dominated by the Holy Spirit whom He did not receive by measure. Just as He is the Light of the world so His disciples are said to be lights in the world, holding forth the word of life. The exhortation is never outmoded, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may behold your good works and glorify your Father.”
In the second part of the message Zerubbabel was given assurance that he would be able to complete the work in spite of seemingly unsurmountable opposition. “Who art thou, O great mountain. Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain, and he shall bring forth the headstone of it with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace, unto it.” Perhaps there is a hidden reference to the current belief about the stone of stumbling to which our Lord made reference in Matthew 21:42-44: “Did you never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.” The scripture to which our Lord was referring is Psalm 118:22-23. Peter in his first epistle makes an extended reference to the same stone: “It is contained in scripture (Isaiah 28:16); Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious; … unto you, therefore, who believe He is precious, but unto them who are disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence” (1 Peter 2:6-8). The incident to which the Psalmist, our Lord, and Peter, refer seems to be more than a tradition. It was believed that when Solomon’s Temple was building, stones were shapen in the quarries, conveyed to the site and left in the sun to dry. One stone, it is said, was a seeming misfit and was thrown aside. Work-men going home often stumbled over it, and it became “an offence.” When the Temple was almost complete, it was discovered that the cornerstone was missing. Search was made, and it was found that the discarded stone was the one needed to fill the honourable place. Perhaps it was that incident to which Zerubbabel’s attention was drawn as a promise that he would see the headstone of the New Temple in its place when his work was finished, crying, “Grace, grace unto it.”
Some might despise the Second Temple as built in a day of small things. It was nothing in comparison with the magnificence of Solomon’s building, but Jehovah valued it as the work of a man who was faithful in his generation. Zerubbabel, the man with the plummet in his hand, would be satisfied, when he realized that the seven “eyes of the Lord which run to and fro through the whole earth” rested with pleasure on the final result. The next vision granted the prophet was that of the Flying Scroll. It was of unusual size, roughly ten yards by five yards, and there was writing on either side. The words of the law could be read, and the scroll is described as conveying a curse to those who infringed the law. Two defaulters are specifically mentioned, the thief and the perjurer. The scroll, bearing the curse, would “enter into the house of the thief and into the house of him who swears falsely by my name, and it shall abide in the midst of his house.” That is a symbolical way of indicating that the individual would be responsible to answer for his sin. Conscience would be at work, and there would be no escape.
God’s standard of holiness could not be lowered for those who had returned from exile. Infringement of His laws calls for His displeasure. Even under grace we must not minimize the claims which God makes upon those who have been delivered from the thraldom of sin “The disregard of business morality, the laxity in general conduct and morals, the association with the questionable things of the world, the frequent impurity of thought and word are completely irreconcilable with the unblemished purity of Christ.” (Dr. Tatford)
The third vision was of the Ephah with the heavy lid. In the ephah, something like a barrel, was a woman called Wickedness. When she popped up the heavy leaded lid was thrust down upon her and she was shut up in the container. Then came two women with wings like a stork. They were able to fly swiftly, and they carried the ephah with the woman away to the land of Shinar.
If the vision of the flying scroll unmasks the sins of the individual, this vision discloses the sin of intense commercial preoccupation, a sin which afflicted the people who had returned from Babylon. They were serving Mammon rather than God, and the vision designates such an attitude as wickedness. The nation must be purged of it, and symbolically the wickedness was conveyed back to Babylon. That was God’s way of teaching the people in the days of Zerubbabel that worldly pursuits should be left to men of the world, a lesson needed in our generation.
Babylon is the symbol of commercial worldliness, and its spirit has always been percolating through to the people of God. It was the sin of the church in Laodicea. It is the sin which has characterized every prosperous community. It is the sin against which our Lord warned His generation- Mammon worship. It is the sin which the Apostle Paul denounced, “The love of money is the root of all evil, which, while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
Few of us are immune from this, so let us fix our mind on things above, and lay up treasure in heaven.